EVANSTON – With 11 minutes left in the second half of Saturday’s game against Northwestern, Michigan freshman Chris Hunter drove baseline, pumped once, then laid the ball in with a reverse layup. Not bad for a 6-foot-11 center.
“I just tried to avoid the defense,” Hunter said. “(The defender) had a good shot at blocking my shot. So I just had to scoop it under and use the rim to protect the ball.”
The impressive drive showed the promise the Wolverines have been looking for from their young center this season.
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has been pleased with Hunter’s progress over the last few weeks. After a slow beginning in which Hunter lost the starting spot to Graham Brown, Hunter has come on strong recently.
“I think with all our freshman players you’ve seen them becoming more confident and comfortable,” Amaker said. “And I think Chris is probably as big of a statement we can say as for how our freshman players have developed and come along.”
Hunter’s combination of power and finesse has come as no surprise to Amaker.
“We’ve always known him to be a kid who is fairly skilled for his size,” Amaker said. “He is a very agile player for that size.”
Hunter’s ability to score extends beyond the area around the basket. The big man is able to play facing the basket and square up for the mid-range jump shot.
Northwestern did not respect Hunter’s ability to shoot the ball, and he was able to get good looks from outside the lane. A gifted athlete, Hunter’s versatility is due in part to the amount of practice he puts in and his coaching.
“My versatility comes from high school,” Hunter said. “My high school coaches made me do all the drills, the big man drills and the drills the guards were doing.”
Hunter leads the team with 24 blocks this season, the next closest is Bernard Robinson with 12. His long arms and agility require opposing players to adjust their shot if they want to take it at the big man. Hunter has been using his defensive intensity to fuel his offense.
“I’m just trying to make my defensive play turn in to more aggressiveness on the offensive end,” Hunter said. “I think the better I play on the defensive end the better I play on offense. So I’m just trying to play good defense, get rebounds and block shots.”
Rebounding is an area where the Wolverines greatly need Hunter’s presence around the basket. Michigan was out-rebounded by Ohio State and Penn State. The Wolverines also tied with Northwestern in rebounds, 27, on Saturday. Michigan relies on Hunter to use his size and agility to attack the glass. One of the keys to Hunter’s rebounding sccess, is his mental approach.
“I just put it into my mind that every ball that came off that rim was mine,” Hunter said.
Northwestern was a home coming of sorts for the Gary, Ind. native. He had a handful of friends and family on hand. But Hunter, who has bought into Amaker’s team philosophy, was concerned about just one thing in Evanston.
“I just wanted to get the 11th-straight win for Michigan,” Hunter said. “It didn’t matter what family was here, I was just trying to win for Michigan.”